Our sponsor, Cake Maternity shares many reasons why breastfeeding can be a challenge for moms. Many of these reasons is also why the Holistic Moms Network exists; for that village, for that community, for that connection to support. Find, start, or become involved with your local HMN community to find support for yourself, or provide it to others on their breastfeeding journey, and on their holistic journey. -The Holistic Moms Network
Breastfeeding in our world history has a long and complex history and has drawn our attention for centuries. With this history has come many ideas of breastfeeding being natural, effortless and a rite of passage as women enter into motherhood. We have historical images of greek goddesses feeding their babies and today we have images on our social media feed of babies placed perfectly on a mom’s chest after birth ready to breastfeed. While these images may evoke feelings of breastfeeding appearing effortless, those who have walked the days of early breastfeeding know that it can be anything but natural and easy. Here’s why…
We have lost our village
The images of women we see breastfeeding through history have a backdrop we do not have today — other women and family surrounding them. This is significant because this support network of grandmothers, sisters and cousins all gave support for a new parent after birth to help them heal, but also provided space and nurturing to support breastfeeding. In non-western cultures the practices of “lying in”, or what is known as the first 40 days, serves not only to honor the new mother and her newborn, but also to provide sacred time where a new mother and her baby can learn each other and find their way in breastfeeding. If concerns arise during feeding at this time, mothers can lean on their own mothers and family for support with the challenges that may arise from latching concerns, sore nipples or a difficult to soothe baby. Our modern reality today is that we bring our babies home and often the only one by our side is our partner. Family may stop by for a short period of time, but often the idea is that families should be “self sufficient” with small visits from their support network. This often leaves a large gap in support for nurturing new mothers with breastfeeding challenges.
We have lost our community
Breastfeeding can feel unnatural now more than ever because we still have not #normalizedbreastfeeding in our modern day, and most notably through the last 100 years with formula and breastmilk substitutes. Breastfeeding used to be so commonplace in communities that new mothers would grow up seeing their mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and extended family all breastfeed their babies. Today, unless we seek out a breastfeeding support group or have a family who is passionate about breastfeeding, we often do not have access to seeing breastfeeding happen and therefore are not always akin to understanding the many challenges that can exist in a breastfeeding relationship.
We expect mothers to figure it out
Today, mothers are left to question on their own if it should feel painful when an infant latches, or what to expect when their baby's first tooth comes in or how to feed both a toddler and an infant. Historically, these experiences could all be mirrored to them in their community by having other breastfeeding women close to them. The expectations in today's environment seem to echo the message that mothers need to just “figure it out” on their own and if they do not, they are failing at what is often set up to be seen as their “first test in motherhood”. While the increased messaging in our recent culture is swinging back towards messages that breastfeeding is superior, there is still little support in our healthcare systems and communities to support this. Almost all mothers know the power of breastmilk properties, and yet we still lack the “infrastructure” so to speak to help support mothers in reaching this goal. We teach women to “breastfeed” with baby dolls which are nothing like real babies and for many new parents they might not see a baby breastfeed until it is their own newborn in their arms.
Our language is powerful
Due to the lack of normalized breastfeeding, when we have mothers that do breastfeed we can often hear a variety of stories which can be incredibly impactful and powerful. Since we still have a system that lacks support for breastfeeding, these stories can encompass a range of experiences — many include comments are about how challenging or painful breastfeeding is, all of which sink in with our hearts and minds and undermine our intuitive ability to feed our baby. These stories and narratives are powerful and have the ability to set up a woman before her baby is even born with shaky confidence about her ability to feed. Instead of taking in these stories about breastfeeding being painful, challenging and all encompassing, we can help new parents understand that these challenges are part of a larger system of a lack of support overall as opposed to a reflection of their dedication to feed their baby.
So, if you are wondering why breastfeeding appears so natural and intuitive, yet often feels anything but that — we can now look at this backdrop. Instead of asking ourselves why breastfeeding feels so challenging or why more women do not breastfeed we can instead ask:
How can we as a community better support women in meeting their breastfeeding goals?
How can we work on changing our family system and culture to be able to meet these needs?
We underestimate that breastfeeding is about so much more than feeding, the line between nutrition and nurturing is often blurred. When mothers are questioning their ability to breastfeed or encountering challenges along the way, it is often less about the positioning of the baby’s mouth and more about the mother’s intuitive confidence that she can adequately nourish her baby on more than a physical level. This emotional and intuitive confidence arises not just from the individual but from the community and culture at large.
Jaren Soloff is a Registered Dietitian and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and one of the resident writers at Cake Maternity. Jaren combines her expertise as a skilled nutrition therapist and lactation consultant to support individuals looking to heal their relationship with food and body. Her practice, FULL CRCL, provides evidenced based practices to support women at all stages of the reproductive cycle, from preconception to postpartum.